[Marxism] Russia Airstrikes Help Push Syria Rebels Closer
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Oct 13 07:15:51 MDT 2015
WSJ, Oct. 13 2015
Russia Airstrikes Help Push Syria Rebels Closer
Fractious groups are forming alliances against Assad, despite past
By RAJA ABDULRAHIM
BEIRUT—Moscow’s intervention in Syria’s multisided civil war has spurred
some of the country’s fractious rebels to fight together, offering
another shot at a more unified front against the Assad regime and its
Russian and Iranian allies.
Since Russian warplanes entered the conflict two weeks ago, three local
rebel alliances have emerged across the provinces where President Bashar
al-Assad aims to regain ground and consolidate control. Although such
alliances have been short-lived in the past, rebels said more were
expected in the coming weeks.
Opposition factions including U.S.-backed rebels and Nusra Front, al
Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, have come together to counter a regime
offensive across several fronts in the northwest, while others continue
to fight Islamic State militants.
On Monday, regime forces briefly retook part of Kafar Nabouda, a
rebel-held town in Hama province, which it has been attacking for a
week. More than 700 rockets were fired on rebels and Russian planes
launched numerous airstrikes, said Abu al-Majid al-Homsi, a commander in
Hama with Suqoor al-Ghab, a rebel group that has received training by
the Central Intelligence Agency.
But hours later, rebels were able to push them back as a result of tight
coordination through a joint command post they established last week, he
“Any coalition will benefit the rebels,” said Maj. Yasser Abdolraheem, a
commander with Faylaq al-Sham, a moderate group that has fighters in
several provinces. “But time and time again problems and differences
emerge and they don’t survive.”
Rebel coalitions have formed and disbanded regularly over the 4½-year
war, and their ideological and strategic differences remain profound.
Rivalries among rebel leaders have also endured, and scores are
sometimes settled violently among the rank-and-file.
“You have those kinds of local-unity projects and ad hoc alliances
forming all the time, and it’s usually in preparation for when they are
going to attack something or for a certain goal or a certain offensive,”
said Aron Lund, editor of Syria in Crisis, a website run by the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think tank. “Most
of these unity experiments tend to either fade away after that goal is
achieved or they fade away without that goal being achieved.”
Amid the latest fighting, Islamic State militants also have seized the
opportunity to advance against the rebels in some areas.
The U.S. on Sunday airdropped small-arms ammunition to resupply Syrian
Arab groups along the Turkish border fighting Islamic State, a U.S.
military spokesman said. Col. Steve Warren, said Monday. He said the
groups receiving the supplies have been fighting Islamic State in the
north alongside Syrian Kurdish forces, but declined to provide
additional information, citing “operational security.”
Russia’s involvement has bolstered a regime that was already being aided
militarily by the Lebanese Hezbollah militia and Iranian forces. Still,
it also has shown signs of galvanizing rebels more than in the past.
After the first day of Russian airstrikes, which antigovernment
activists and rebels say targeted moderate rebels and killed dozens of
civilians, 41 rebel groups jointly called for unified ranks and an end
to their quarrels in the face of a common enemy.
“The Russian intervention really was an important reason for the groups
to form the operation room because everyone is thinking of the upcoming
battle,” said Mahmoud Allouz, a spokesman for the Homs Legion of the
Western-backed Free Syrian Army, which together with the Islamist group
Ahrar al-Sham and Nusra Front, has formed a joint command in northern
Homs. “Because the Syrian regime is assembling forces around the area.”
The mergers carry risks, especially for more mainstream rebels. Such
coalitions could play into Mr. Assad’s broader game plan of eliminating
what’s left of the relatively moderate opposition, leaving behind only
hard-line groups the West isn’t willing to ally with.
“The Russian strikes are directly targeting the moderate opposition and
disproportionately focusing on these more moderate FSA groups,” said
Christopher Kozak, a research analyst at the Washington-based Institute
for the Study of War, a think tank. “Groups that are otherwise
distinguishable will be driven to these more hard-line groups in order
to seek more protection and in order to seek more support.”
In northern Hama province, for example, several smaller U.S.-backed
rebel factions are susceptible to being absorbed by the Fatih Army, a
coalition formed a few months ago that also includes Ahrar al-Sham and
Nusra Front, as in Homs, he said. Those smaller groups are equipped with
CIA-supplied TOW antitank missiles, but they are also coordinating
closely with the Fatih Army, according to Mr. Kozak.
President Barack Obama has said he wouldn’t be pulled into a proxy war
with Russia in Syria, but the TOW weapons have already destroyed dozens
of Syrian regime tanks and armored vehicles in the recent clashes,
according to rebels.
Ahrar al-Sham was part of an effort last year to form the Islamic Front
coalition, which was to merge seven of the biggest rebel groups and form
the beginning of an opposition army. The Islamic Front also was to play
a lead role in establishing a political plan for the future of Syria.
But after months of negotiations, the Islamic Front fell apart as groups
that ranged from moderate Islam to Salafi jihadist were unable to merge.
“Not all the groups believe that we must unite,” said Baraa Halaq, an
Ahrar al-Sham spokesman who said he was hopeful that the Russian
involvement would spur some to change their minds. “There are steps but
it is slow for sure.”
— Mohammed Nour Al Akraa contributed to this article.
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